Battle of Naissus

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The Battle of Naissus (268 or 269 AD) was the defeat of a Gothic coalition by the Roman Empire under Emperor Gallienus (or Claudius II) near Naissus (Niš in present-day Serbia). The events around the invasion and the battle are an important part of the history of the Crisis of the Third Century.

The result was a great Roman victory which, combined with the effective pursuit of the invaders in the aftermath of the battle and the energetic efforts of the Emperor Aurelian, largely removed the threat from Germanic tribes in the Balkan frontier for the following decades.



As is often the case in the history of the Roman Empire in the troubled 3rd century, it is very difficult to reconstruct the course of events around the battle of Naissus. Surviving accounts of the period, including Zosimus' New History, Zonaras' Epitome of the Histories, George Syncellus' Selection of Chronography, and the Augustan History, rely principally on the lost history of the Athenian Dexippus. The text of Dexippus has survived only indirectly, through quotations in the fourth-century Augustan History and extracts in ninth-century Byzantine compilations.[2] Despite his importance for the period, Dexippus has been declared a "poor" source by the modern historian David S. Potter.[3] To make matters worse, the works making use of Dexippus (and likely another unknown contemporary source) provide an almost radically different interpretation of events.[4] The imperial propaganda in the age of Constantine's dynasty added more confusion by attributing all the calamities to the reign of Gallienus to avoid blemishing the memory of Claudius (supposed ancestor of the dynasty).[5]

As a consequence, controversy still exists on the number of invasions and the order of events and on which reign those events must be attributed.[6] Therefore, there is a dispute over who was the Emperor and head of the army at the time of the battle. In 1939, Andreas Alföldi, preferring the single invasion theory, suggested that Gallienus was the only one responsible for defeating the barbarian invasions, including the victory at Naissus.[7] His view had been broadly accepted since then, but modern scholarship usually attributes the final victory to Claudius II.[8] The single invasion theory has been also rejected in favour of the two separate invasions. The narrative below follows the latter view but the reader must be warned that the evidence is too confused for an entirely safe reconstruction.[9]

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